Burma, Physical Aspects 1908

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This article has been extracted from



Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.


The name given to the country stretching along the western edge of that portion of the continent of Asia which lies be- tween the Bay of Bengal and the China Sea and is known generally as Indo-China. It is situated between 9° 58' and 27° 20' N. and 92° 11' and loi*^ 9' E., covering a superficial area of approximately 237,000 square miles, of which 169,000 are under direct British admin- istration, while 68,000 belong to dependent Native States, Due north the boundary between Burma, Tibet, and China has not been precisely determined. Assam, Manipur, the Lushai Hills, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts hem it in on the north-west, and its western border is the Bay of Bengal. Its north-eastern and eastern frontiers march with the Chinese Province of Yunnan, the Chinese-Shan and the Lao States, the French possessions in Indo-China, and the kingdom of Siam ; and on the south it is bounded by that portion of Siam which forms part of the Malay Peninsula. It thus constitutes the easternmost rampart of the Indian Empire.

Its extreme width is approximately 500 miles and its extreme length about 1,200 miles : in other words, its northernmost and southernmost points, the first near the head-waters of the Irrawaddy in the neighbourhood of Tibet, the second on the Isthmus of Kra on the Siamese Malay border, are about as far removed from each other as is Allahabad from Cape Comorin or Lahore from Chittagong. With the exception of the three southern Districts of Tenasserim — Am- herst, Tavoy, and Mergui — Burma (with the Shan States) forms a fairly compact lozenge-shaped quadrilateral area, with its southern and northern angles at Cape Negrais and Hkamti Long, and its western and eastern corners at Maungdaw on the Naaf river in Arakan and in the bend of the Mekong river which takes in the eastern corner of the Shan State of Kengtung. The Districts of Amherst, Tavoy, and Mergui form a straggling southern adjunct to the rest of the Province, con- necting it with the Malay Peninsula. In the second edition of the Imperial Gazetteer the shape of British Burma, as it figured on the map in 1885, was likened to a 'sea-gull travelling towards the east with wide, extended wings,' the northern pinion being Arakan, the southern Tenasserim, and the body including the valley of the Irra- waddy and Sittang. Matters have so progressed since then that the country would now more properly be compared by the imaginative to a kite, with its head pointed due north and a string or tail depend- ing from its south-eastward end.

The origin of the word ' Burma ' is by no means certain. It is argued, on the one hand, that the name came from India in the shape of ' Brahma ' ; on the other, that it is a corruption of the Chinese name for the Burmese race. The former was the view held by Sir Arthur Phayre ; and, when it is borne in mind that in the works of European writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the country is occasionally referred to as ' Brama,' there would certainly appear to be prima fiicie grounds for the theory. At no time, however, has Brahmanism found a footing in more than an insignificant portion of what is now Burma ; and, on the whole, the weight of opinion appears to lean towards the second hypothesis, which was originated by the late Bishop Bigandet, the scholarly Vicar Apostolic of Southern Burma. ' Mien ' is the Chinese for Burma \ and the Burmese name for Burma was and still is written Myanma, though ordinarily pro- nounced Bama.

The Shans called Burma the country of the Mans, the term ' Man ' having been originally applied by the Chinese to a group of tribes, including the Lolo and the Mantzu, who are found in considerable numbers in the Province of Ssuch'uan. The Mani- purTs on the north-west frontier of the Province call the Burmans ' Maran.' Burmans in Kachin and Maru are styled ' Myeng ' ; and among the Palaungs, a Mon-Anam pre-Burman hill tribe inhabiting the north of the Shan States, who are absolutely free from the suspicion of exposure to Hindu influences, Burma is known as ' Bran.' In short, internal evidence all points to a Mongolian derivation.

Physical aspects

Burma is split up into natural divisions by its rivers and mountain ranges. The valleys of the Irrawaddy, Chindwin, and Sittang form a narrow strip of plain land, running down the centre ysica main mass and widening out into the delta country on either side of Rangoon. The sea forms the southern limit of this strip. On all other sides the central level is enclosed by hill ridges — in the north by the Kachin, in the west by the Chin, in the east by the Shan and Karen Hills ; and, as the general direction of streams and ranges alike is north and south, a geographical dissection results in the presentation to the observer of a series of more or less vertical stretches of territory following the line of the coast. Prior to 1852 British dominion was represented by the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim, two narrow fringes of the seaboard of Indo-China. The Burmese War of 1852 filled up the gap between the extreme ends of these two strips, and added to British territory the southern portions of the main central section of Burma lying along the valley of the Irrawaddy, and of the long stretch of highland rising between the Irrawaddy and the Salween. Thirty -four years later, with the annexation of Upper Burma, these accretions were again extended to the north.

The whole of the valley of the Irrawaddy, with its tributary the Chindwin, now forms an integral part of the Indian Empire, and the table-land between the Irrawaddy and the Salween acknowledges British suzerainty as far north as the confines of Yunnan. At the same time control was acquired over the Chin Hills, an oblong strip of hill country in the north-west, forming part of the general mass of upland of which the Yoma (' main ridge ') separating Arakan from the Irrawaddy valley is the most southerly spur. To the east of the Salween there is a further stretch of country bounded on its east by the Mekong. A large portion of this area belongs to the Shan States and forms part of the Indian Empire. Its Cf. Marco Polo's * Kingdom of Mien ' and ' Province of Amicn.' precise limits are as yet undetermined ; and the hold over its northern end, peopled by the most backward of all the wild communities that inhabit the Province, the Was, is at present of the lightest.

With reference to rainfall and population, Burma falls into four main natural divisions : the Upper Burma wet, the Upper Burma dry, the Lower Burma littoral and deltaic, and the Lower Burma sub-deltaic. The Upper Burma wet division, with a rainfall of over 50 inches, comprises the Shan States, the Chin Hills, and the Districts of Katha, Bhamo, Myitkyina, the Upper Chindwin, and the Ruby Mines : i.e. por- tions of the Mandalay and Sagaing Commissionerships. This mass of hill country is the home of the Shans of the Shan States, the Shans of Burma proper, the Kachins, the Chins, and a host of other hill tribes, and may be said, roughly speaking, to comprise the whole of the non- Burman areas of Upper Burma.

The Upper Burma dry division is an arid zone which extends across the valley of the Irrawaddy from the 20th to the 23rd parallel of latitude, and consists of plain land with a few sporadic hill masses dotted over its surface. It embraces the Districts of Minbu, Magwe, Pakokku, Mandalay, Shwebo, Sagaing, Lower Chindwin, Kyaukse, Meiktila, Yamethin, and Myingyan — i.e. portions of the Mandalay, Sagaing, and Minbu Commissionerships, and the whole of Meiktila — being more or less conterminous with the limits of the old kingdom of Ava. Most of the old Burmese capitals — Pagan, Sagaing, Ava, Shwebo, Amarapura, and Mandalay — are situated within its limits, and the preponderating element of its population is still Burman. The rainfall is slight, save at its fringes.

The wet division of Lower Burma stretches down the entire length of the coast, including the whole, of the Arakan and parts of the Tenasserim, Pegu, and Irrawaddy Commissionerships. North and south of the delta country hill ranges approach the sea-face, islands abound, and such lowlanders as there are have found a footing only in the valleys and exiguous stretches of plain land that occur here and there along the seaboard. Pure Burmans are comparatively scarce in this area. Arakanese, Bengalis, and Chins form a large proportion in the Arakan portion, while to the south the Karens, Taungthus, Talaings, Siamese, Salons, and Tavoyans make up a considerable sec- tion of the community. The rainfall is ordinarily far in excess of 100 inches per annum. The Districts of Akyab, Sandoway, Kyaukpyu, Amherst, Thaton, Tavoy, and Mergui belong to this division, as also the Hill Tracts of Northern Arakan and Sal ween.

In the delta proper — i.e. in the Districts of Bassein, Pyapon, Myaungmya, Maubin, Hanthawaddy, and Pegu — the country is prac- tically all a dead level. Such rising ground as is found at its limits is of inconsiderable height. The population is relatively dense, and the rainfall not so heavy as along the coast hills, seldom rising above IOC inches per annum. With the delta Districts are intimately con- nected five comparatively dry Districts, belonging to the Commissioner- ships of Minbu, Pegu, Irrawaddy, and Tenasserim, which, for want of a better classification, have been designated the sub-deltaic Districts of Lower Burma. They mark the border-land between the wet and the dry areas, and partake to a certain extent of the characteristics of both. Thayetmyo is almost a dry zone District ; Henzada is practi- cally deltaic ; Tharrawaddy, Prome, and Toungoo have features of their own. All, however, have a rainfall of below 90 inches ; all are in Lower Burma ; none actually touches the coast ; and on the whole all possess enough similarity with each other, and differ sufficiently from their neighbours, to justify their being placed together in one category. In the delta and in the sub-deltaic Districts the Burman element again asserts itself, though there is a far greater admixture of Karens, Takings, and other non-Burman Indo-Chinese races than in the Districts of the arid zone.

Within its borders Burma can show scenery of surprising variety. In the remote uplands of the extreme north the piled hill masses raise their heads almost into the region of eternal snow, their blue crests encompassing the head-waters of the great streams that they dismiss southwards to the ocean ; and from end to end of the Province there are but few spots from which one or other of the long forest-clad spurs that stretch downwards towards the southern seas cannot be seen closing in the prospect on the one hand or the other. They are visible alike from the silk bazar in Mandalay and from the roadstead of Moulmein ; the traveller skirts them for half a day in his train journey from Rangoon to the north ; they follow the seafarer down the coast from Akyab to Maliwun.

Their flanks are clothed with dense bamboo or tree jungle. Here and there, amid the more sombre green, a vivid patch points to the handiwork of the taungya-OMW^x. Down all the countless valleys that furrow the uplands, streams wend their way plain- wards, marking their passage through the forest by a sinuous streak of richer verdure ; and where the line is broken by waving plantain tufts, there, one may be sure, thatched roofs will proclaim a village, with possibly its monastery embowered amid the trees, and a whitewashed pagoda or two. Low-lying stretches of swampy land covered with grey-green kaing grass abound in the valleys and hollows of the hills, and point to the countless acres of waste still capable of being brought under cultivation. These stretches open out towards the plains, and are swallowed up in the wide paddy-fields that follow the line of all the principal watercourses of the Province.

This is the typical scenery of the north of Upper Burma. Farther south in the dry zone the aspect of things is in marked contrast. Luxuriant vegetation no longer meets the eye. On every hand the country rolls away in stretches of a dull yellow ochre. Sparse, stunted vegetation clothes the arid ridges. Through the hollows toddy palms are scattered, and almost every eminence is crowned with a pagoda spire. In place of narrow forest paths, encroached on by undergrowth and blocked by fallen trees, we have here stony cart-tracks radiating unimpeded across the face of the country, rising and falling with its undulations, leading through hedges of cactus, past bleak collections of huts that lie huddled away within ring fences of thorn bushes and are barely distinguishable during the dry season from their drab surroundings. From Thayetmyo southwards conditions outwardly more pleasing prevail. The scenery of the north is reproduced, though on a some- what less imposing scale. Green jungle-clad heights look down upon the stream, and smiling tracts of rice land tell of a generous rainfall.

South of Prome the hills fall back from the river ; elephant-grass and paddy-fields spread like a sea on either hand ; the horizon is bounded by the nearest clump of trees that rises appreciably above the level of the fields, and the breaking up of the waters into a network of muddy tidal creeks proclaims that the delta has been reached and that the sea is near. A southward course takes the traveller out to sea ; but long after the low coast has dropped behind the horizon, the brown flood through which the vessel ploughs tells of the vast volume of silt that the Irrawaddy has carried down with it through the Lower Burma plains. In time, however, clear water and fresh prospects are reached. The coast-line that soon lifts into view in the east is fringed with hills clad with tropical vegetation down to the beach's edge. Amid their hollows nestle sandy coves ; and, as the course towards the equator is maintained, wooded islands rise up into view out of the blue sea in ever and ever greater numbers, till at length the southern limit of the Province is reached amid the beautiful pearling grounds of the Mergui Archipelago.

Outside the Districts of the dry zone and the areas around the Irra- waddy delta there is but little level land in Burma. To the extreme north the country is a labyrinth of hills, the habitat of the Kachins and other cognate tribes ; and it is from this remote region, or even from the Tibetan plateau still farther north, that all the main hill systems of the Province start. Towards the south the chains diverge and take lines of their own ; but so dense is the massing in the angle caused by the converging of the Assam and China frontiers, that the only general classification possible is that which distinguishes the high- lands lying to the west from those lying to the east of the Irrawaddy. The former may be considered first. To the north-west of the point in Myitkyina District where the Malikha {kha = ' stream ') and the N'maikha unite their waters and become the Irrawaddy, lies the Hukawng valley, the cradle of the Chindwin river. To the east of this basin the Kumon range runs down from Hkamti Long towards the neighbourhood of Mogaung ; and the main trend of upland is con- tinued southwards, where this system ceases, by a succession of ridges which form the watershed between the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin.

The Taungthonlon, an. eminence 5,652 feet in height, marks the northernmost point of the most distinctive of these ranges. South of the Hukawng valley is a mass of broken hill country known as the Jade Mines tract, which lies more or less at right angles to the ranges described above, and abuts in the west on the upper reaches of the Chindwin. On the western side of the last-named river, at and below this point, are the Naga and Manipur Hills, with peaks running up to a level of over 12,000 feet. This lofty rampart follows the course of the Chindwin southwards, and constitutes the western frontier of Upper Burma. Between the 22nd and 24th parallels of latitude the western highland border is known as the Chin Hills ; farther south it is the home of the inhabitants of the Arakan and Pakokku Hill Tracts, while its ever-dwindling southern spur that skirts the Bay of Bengal and ends at Cape Negrais goes by the name of the Arakan YoMA. Two of the highest points in this system are Sarameti (12,557 feet), known to the Burmans as Nwemauktaung, a mountain due east of Kohima in Assam, a portion of which lies in Burmese territory ; and Mount Victoria (10,400 feet), a peak in the Pakokku Chin Hills between Paletwa and Pakokku, which is looked upon as possessing great possibilities as a sanitarium.

Turning now to the hill systems to the east of the Irrawaddy, we find a succession of mountain chains and plateaux separating the valley of that river from the rocky trough down which its sister stream, the Salween, rushes to the sea. Starting from the extreme north, the eastern Kachin Hills detach them- selves from the lofty ridge that rises between the head-waters of the two great rivers and, running in a southerly and south-westerly course, are absorbed into the high ground that is massed to the north of the Northern Shan States and the Ruby Mines District. Thence again southwards, as far as the boundary between Upper and Lower Burma, the Shan plateau stretches its undulations across the country that lies between the two main streams of the Province. In the Northern Shan States the grouping of the hills is broken and irregular, but in the Southern the trend of the ridges north and south is pronounced. Near Toungoo, soon after the Shan Hills have given place to the Karen Hills, the high land to the west of the Sahveen narrows and, under the name of the Paunglaung range, drops away eventually to the level of the Thaton plain, a little to the east of where the big-mouthed Sittang river empties itself into the Gulf of Martaban.

On the farther side of the Salween lie the rugged heights peopled by the Was in the north, and farther south the hills that form the Salween-Mekong watershed in the trans-Salween State of Kengtung. As the confines of the Lao States are reached, a mass of hills curves round the southern edge of Kengtung along the Siam border down the east of Karenni, sending out southern spurs which stretch along the marches of Amherst, Tavoy, and Mergui, in the Tenasserim Division, to the extreme southerly limit of Burma. In addition to the hills on the western and eastern skirts of the Province, a few isolated ranges call for notice. One of these is the Pegu Yoma, which, rising in Yamethin District and running southwards, separates the valleys of the Irrawaddy and the Sittang, and branches out near the head of the Irrawaddy delta into several low terminal hills, the extremity of one being crowned by the Holy of Holies of Burmese Buddhism, the Shwedagon pagoda of Rangoon. The main central plain of Burma, formed by the Districts of the dry zone, is for the most part destitute of rising ground. Here and there, however, isolated hill clusters rise from the surrounding level ; and in the centre of the plain, like a boss on a shield, stands the volcanic peak of PoPA, its summit nearly 5,000 feet above the sea.

The general course of the rivers of Burma, like that of its hill ranges, is from north to south. The Irrawaddy traverses the greater part of the Province from end to end, dividing Burma proper into two strips of about equal area. Formed by the junction of the Malikha and the N'maikha, about 30 miles above the town of Myitkyina, it emerges from a labyrinth of hills in the extreme north, and flows for 900 miles through rocky defiles, broad level plains, and narrow tidal creeks, to empty itself through a multiplicity of mouths into the Bay of Bengal between Rangoon and Cape Negrais. Its principal tributaries are the Mogaung stream, the Taping, the Shweli, the Mvitnge, the Mu, the Chindwin, the Yaw, the Mon, and the Man.

The next most important river of Burma is the Salween or Nam Kong, which, lying to the east of the Irrawaddy, flows, like its sister stream, generally from north to south. So far as is at present known, its springs are situated at about the 32nd or 33rd parallel of latitude in the unexplored country east of Tibet. AVhen it is level with Hkamti Long, i.e. at about the 27th parallel of latitude, only a comparatively narrow watershed separates its channel from that of the N'maikha. It is not, however, till it has penetrated about three degrees farther south, and has reached a point between 600 and 700 miles from its mouth, that it enters British territory. Thence southwards, ploughing between steep hills, it bisects the Shan States and Karenni, skirts the eastern edge of the Province, and disgorges itself into the Gulf of Martaban near Moulmein.

About midway between the valleys of the Irrawaddy and the Salween and flowing, like these streams, from the north to the south, is the SiTTANG. The valley lying between the Pegu Yoma and the Shan Hills in Yamethin District is the area within which the head-waters of the Sittang or Paunglaung join and begin their journey south- wards to the sea. Fed by affluents from the Yoma on the one hand and from the Karen Hills on the other, it winds past the towns of Toungoo and Shwegyin and spreads out, almost imperceptibly, after a course of about 350 miles, into the northern apex of the Gulf of Martaban at a point about equidistant from the ports of Rangoon and Moulmein.

Rangoon itself lies at the junction of three minor streams — the Hlaing or Rangoon River, which flows down, followed by the line of the Prome railway, from the north-west, the Pazundaung creek from the north, and the Pegu River from the north-east. Various streams rise in the hills along the coast of Burma, run south, and empty them- selves, after a course of greater or less length, into the sea. Of these, the most important are the Kaladan in Arakan, which, rising in the remote fastnesses of the Chin Hills, flows southwards into the Bay of Bengal at Akyab ; the Tavoy river, on which the town of Tavoy stands ; and the Tenasserim, farther down the coast, in the extreme south of the Division of that name. The Mekong can hardly be said to constitute any part of the river system of Burma. For a distance of between 50 and 100 miles it does, however, form the boundary between the Shan States and French Indo-China, and therefore deserves mention. Of its affluents the principal one in this region is the Nam Lwi, which traverses the greater part of the Shan State of Kengtung and joins the Mekong from the west.

Jhils, or shallow meres, caused by the accumulation of river or rain- water in low-lying levels, and drying up either wholly or partially before the close of the hot season, are common in every District of Burma. The greater part of the fishing industry of the interior and the bulk of the hot-season tillage is carried on in the beds of these natural reservoirs, but their transitory nature is such as to deprive them of a title to geographical recognition. There are but few considerable stretches of water which attain any depth that have not been largely converted by May into paddy-fields. The Indawgvi Lake, in the west of Myitkyina District, is the largest of the few real lakes in Burma. It measures 16 by 6 miles, and is bounded on the south, east, and west by two low ranges of hills. The Meiktila Lake, near the town of Meiktila, is artificial. The Inle Lake, near Yawnghwe in the Southern Shan States, is nearly as large as the Indawgyi, but has greatly diminished in size within recent times. A similar shrinkage is apparent in the case of some lakes at Mongnai in the Shan States. The Inma in Prome District, the Tu in Henzada, and the Inyegyi in Bassein are the three most conspicuous of the inland waters of Lower Burma.

Islands are plentiful all down the shores of Burma. The largest is Ramree, off the coast of Arakan. It is about 50 miles in length and at its broadest point about 20 miles in breadth ; and the town of Kyaukpyu, the head-quarters of the District of the same name, lies at its northern end. Separated from it to the south by a narrow strait lies Cheduba, another considerable island, with an area of 220 square miles. A straight line drawn from the Alguada lighthouse to the northern end of the Andaman Islands passes through the Cocos, two small islands lying to the north-east of the Andamans and forming, administratively, part of the Hanthawaddy District of Lower Burma.

They are not inhabited by any permanent residents, and are only visited occasionally by coco-nut gatherers. The island of Bilugyun is situated south-west of the town of Moulmein at the mouth of the Sal ween. It is 190 square miles in extent, and is thickly inhabited. South of Tavoy the Mergui Archipelago stretches along the western face of the Tenasserim Division. The islands of this group are rocky and sparsely populated. Tavoy, King, Sullivan's, Elphinstone, Ross, Kisseraing, and Domel Islands are all of considerable extent, and are all more or less frequented by the Salons or sea-gipsies.

The Province boasts of few good natural harbours. With three exceptions (Akyab, Kyaukpyu, and Mergui), the principal ports are situated on tidal rivers at some little distance from the sea, and none of the harbours on the sea-face is exceptionally commodious or easy of approach.

A line drawn along the western bank of the Irrawaddy as far south as Mandalay, and thence southwards again, along the foot of the Shan plateau, down the Sittang valley to the head of the Gulf of Martaban, may be said to divide Burma into its two main geological divisions. West of this line the formations are of Tertiary age ; east of it they are far older, for the most part Archaean and Secondary, any Tertiary patches being purely local. From a geological point of view the most important mountain ranges to the west are the Chin Hills and Arakan Yoma, which are composed partly of sandstones, shales, and limestones, probably of Cretaceous age, but for the most part of rocks containing Tertiary fossils extending from the Nummulitic to the Miocene period ; and the Pegu Yoma, consisting of shales and sand- stones of more recent formation than those of the Arakan Yoma, which overlie, apparently conformably, the Nummulitics on the eastern slopes of the latter range. The oldest-known formations in the western division are the Chin shales found in the central parts of the Arakan Yoma.

According to Mr. Theobald (who has given them the name of Axials), they are of Triassic (Secondary) age, but doubt has been thrown upon the correctness of this classification. A more widely spread formation in this western area is the Nummulitic division, con- sisting of shales and sandstones capped by a bed of limestone, which is shallow in Lower Burma but increases in thickness towards the north, and is of very considerable depth in the neighbourhood of the Chin Hills in Upper Burma. The petroleum of the Province is found in the still younger sandstones of what is known as the Pegu (geological) division. Coal and amber are present in the beds of this division, which contain a large proportion of the mineral wealth of the Province. These beds are of marine origin, but are overlaid by fluviatile layers of soft yellow sandstone (Miocene), containing concretions of exceed- ingly hard siliceous sandstone and subordinate bands of ferruginous conglomerate, which cover a very large portion of the valleys of the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin. Volcanic activity during the deposition of the Tertiary formations in Upper Burma is responsible for the presence of jade and gold in the northern portions of the Province.

In the main eastern division, the hilly country to the east of the Irrawaddy-Sittang valley (comprising the Ruby Mines District, the Shan States, and the Karen Hills) is almost entirely composed of rocks older than Tertiary, ranging from the Primary gneisses of pre-Cambrian age to mesozoic (Jurassic or Cretaceous). The gneisses of the Ruby Mines District contain bands of crystalline limestone, in which rubies, sapphires, and spinels occur. In the Northern Shan States, which have been more thoroughly studied than most of Upper Burma, the gneisses are followed southwards by a considerable thickness of mica schists, and dikes of tourmaline granite occur near their junction. In this area the formations have been found to belong to the Devonian, the Silurian, and Cambrian systems of geological sequence. The lowest beds consist of quartzites, greywackes, and slaty shales, above which are Silurian strata composed of limestones, calcareous sandstones, and shales exceedingly rich in fossils. In certain localities beds of sand- stone and conglomerates are found.

The surface of the Shan plateau is a great thickness of limestone (Maymyo limestone), which extends from near Maymyo to the Salween. This limestone is generally greatly crushed and brecciated, and the fossils it contained have for the most part been destroyed ; but there is reason to believe that it includes beds of carboniferous as well as of Devonian age. In several different localities on the surface of the plateau beds of shale are found contain- ing numerous fossils, the relation of which to the Maymyo limestone has not yet been clearly made out. To the east of Hsipaw a series of red sandstones with subordinate bands of limestone is largely developed, folded or faulted in among the Maymyo limestone. North and south of Lashio are beds containing thick seams of lignitic coal. In the Southern Shan States a great series of limestones, probably representing the Maymyo limestone, has been found. Farther south again in the Paunglaung range, east of the Sittang, the hills are composed chiefly of crystalline gneissic rocks. The hills separating Amherst, Tavoy, and Mergui from the Siamese border appear to be a prolongation of the Paunglaung and neighbouring ranges. They consist of palaeozoic beds belonging to what have been termed the Moulmein and Mergui groups, and of gneissic rocks. It is in these that the tin-bearing areas of the Province occur

The coast of Burma shows the usual mangrove forest vegetation prevalent along most tropical shores. Farther inland the mangrove pass into tidal forests, where scrubby vegetation is prominent and climbers abound. The herbage here consists of a few coarse sedges and grasses. In the moist climate of Tenasserim, on the lower levels, typical evergreen tropical forests are found, with shrubby vegetation largely developed, and abounding in climbers. At higher elevations oaks, chestnuts, and rhododendrons occur, the soil is covered with grass and herbs, and gentians, lobelias, umbellifers, and violets are met with, while epiphytic orchids and mosses and lichens clothe the trees. Along the eastern base of the Pegu Yoma the vegetation is of the nature of open tropical forest, but the Yoma itself is clad with deciduous forest, bare of leaves in the hot season. Bamboos here, as elsewhere, are abundant ; climbers are not uncommon ; but orchids and other epiphytes are somewhat scarce. The Irrawaddy valley in Lower Burma shows a mixed forest and vegeta- tion towards the Pegu and Arakan Yoma ; climbers and bamboos are common, and orchids not infrequent. Near the river the forest merges into a savannah land of coarse grasses, with here and there swamp forests. In the dry climate of Upper Burma a characteristic scrubby desert flora prevails. Bordering the western flanks of the Shan Hills is the usual typical tarai jungle, while at a higher felevation the uplands are covered with evergreen forest, which, at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, merges into an open rolling plateau with a temperate vegetation of such forms as Ranunculus^ Viola, and Polygala '^.

Most of the larger animals that have their habitat in India are found also in Burma. In the jungles of the north, and in portions of Lower Burma, elephants are fairly plentiful. Tigers abound, save in the Dis- tricts of the dry zone, where there is barely sufficient cover for them. Leopards are common everywhere, and make their presence felt far more than do their larger congeners. The rhinoceros is at times found in the swampy levels of both the Upper and the Lower province, and in the extreme south tapirs have been occasionally seen and shot. It is doubtful whether the wild buffaloes that are at times met with are really indigenous, or whether they are merely beasts, or the progeny of beasts,

' The material from which the geological paragraphs have been compiled was furnished by Messrs. La Touche and Dntta of the Geological Survey.

^ The botanical paragraph has been prepared from materials for which the Editor is indebted to Major Train, TM.S., Director of the Botanical Survey. that have strayed from their herds and become wild within recent years. The hsaing, tshie, or banfeng {Bos sondaiciis), is not found in India proper. Bison can be obtained in the remoter parts of the forests. The deer family is represented by the sd>nbar, the hog deer, the thcvnhi or brow-antlered deer {Cerviis eldi), and the barking-deer. Several varieties of monkey are indigenous to the country, and gibbons {Hylobates hoolock) make the forests re-echo with their yelping, which is very like the music of a pack of fox-hounds giving tongue. The orang-outang is said to have been seen in the portions of Tenasserim adjoining the Malay Peninsula. Among birds, the peafowl (which differs from the Indian bird), the pelican, the vulture, and the hornbill may be mentioned.

Partridge and pheasants of different kinds are distributed over the Province, and every considerable stretch of jungle SAvarms with jungle- fowl. The Saras crane is frequently seen among the paddy-fields, and in the cold season the country is visited by myriads of ducks, geese, snipe, and teal. The cobra, the Russell's viper, and the Biingarus (or karait) all infest Burma, and in some localities the hamadryad has been met with. Pythons are common and at times attain enormous dimensions. The best-known fish are the hilsa {Cliipea ilisha), the mango-fish {Foly- nemus paradtseus), and the mahseer. Crocodiles and turtle are found in the greatest numbers in the delta of the Irrawaddy, but are not uncommon elsewhere. Porpoises are occasionally seen in the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin.

Burma has long enjoyed an unenviable notoriety in the matter of climate, but is slowly outgrowing its reputation as an irredeemably pesti- lential region. Malarial fevers are very prevalent in certain localities, and the Province still possesses towns, such as Kyaukpyu and Kengtung, which are deplorably unhealthy ; but jungle-clearing and conservancy have worked wonders in the past few years in reducing the tale of these penal setdements, and now, whatever may be said of the jungle areas, the majority of places inhabited by Europeans are as salubrious as average stations in the East. For the greater part of the year Lower Burma is a most relaxing place of sojourn, but it is by no means as deadly as it is often supposed to be ; and the dry zone of Upper Burma is, except for a few weeks in the spring and autumn, neither overpower- ingly hot nor remarkably unhealthy. Life in Burma is often, it is true, a burden to the enervated foreign resident, but his bodily discomfort has but little connexion with his state of health, as gauged by the bills of mortality ; for the close, steamy days of the early monsoon are not so dangerous as the cooler, but more treacherous, period that ushers in the cold season, and March and April, two of the most burdensome months of the twelve in the dry Districts, are nevertheless among the healthiest.

Generally speaking, the rainy season may be said to commence with the third week in May and end with the third week in October. In the wet Districts the rainfall of May and September, though high, is rather lower than that of June, July, and August ; and July is ordinarily, it may almost be said invariably, the wettest month in the year. In the dry zone, on the contrary, the beginning and end of the wet season give, as a rule, the heaviest rainfall. July and August in this area are marked by strong, steady winds almost devoid of moisture, and it is only when these drop that showers occur to any extent. In Upper Burma the beginning of October is sometimes very wet, but by the end of the month the dry season has set in. The period between November and April forms the dry moiety of the year, when rain is the exception not the rule. The first half of this period is known as the cold season ; the second as the hot season. December and January are, even in Lower Burma, moderately cool. In Upper Burma the three months from the middle of November to the middle of February are uniformly pleasant. From the latter date there is a marked rise of the thermometer till, shortly after the end of April, the temperature is sent down by the first showers of the monsoon period.

The average temperature and rainfall of the Province are shown in Tables I and II at the end of this article (p. 234). The mean and the diurnal range of four representative months are there given for six typical plains stations and for Maymyo, a hill station on the edge of the dry zone of Upper Burma. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the figures is the relative variation in these monthly means. In Mergui the highest monthly average shown in the table is less than 4° higher than the lowest, and in Rangoon less than 8°, whereas in Bhamo the January and May means are separated by over 20°, and in Thayetmyoand Man- dalay by over 18°. Where the rainfall is heavy (i.e. exceeds 60 inches per annum) the average maximum summer temperature in Burma seldom rises much above 94° ; where it is light, the corresponding figure may be put roughly ten degrees higher, namely, at 104°. The minima are less affected by rainfall than the maxima ; hence, in the cold season, latitude rather than moisture is the determining factor. Speak- ing generally, we may take 60° as the level below which the temperature of Lower Burma seldom falls, while for Upper Burma the figure must be placed about ten degrees lower. The extremes of temperature are thus found in Upper Burma, where the range is about 20° greater than in Lower Burma.

Table II (p. 234) indicates the striking disparity of the rainfall in different portions of Burma, and shows the distribution of the rain over the months of the year. In the natural divisions of Burma referred to above the average annual rainfall is roughly as follows : in the Upper Burma wet division, 70 inches ; in the Upper Burma dry division, 37 inches ; in the Lower Burma littoral, 180 inches ; and in the Lower Burma sub-deltaic, 62 inches. The Upper Burma divisions present little variation in the rainfall of their component Districts. In the Lower Burma littoral division, however, the average ranges from 200 inches in Tavoy and Sandoway to 97 in Rangoon, the figure for the latter area being little more than half of the divisional average, while in the sub-deltaic division the mean lies between Henzada, with nearly 90 inches, and Thayetmyo, with very little over 30.

Storms at the head of the Bay of Bengal are rarely felt south of 20° N., and then only in the immediate neighbourhood of the Arakan coast. Storms and cyclones in the Bay near Burma generally occur during the rainy season. They are of most frequent occurrence during May, though records show that April and November are not free from severe climatic disturbances. Of the May storms those of 1884, 1890, 1897, 1899, and 1902 may be mentioned. The last did much damage in Rangoon and its immediate neighbourhood. Frequent squalls occur during the south-west monsoon. Those near the Arakan coast are apparently due to the obstructive action of the Arakan Yoma, which is from 1,000 to 4,000 feet in height and diverts the direction of the monsoon currents.

Earthquakes of note have occurred only twice in recent years. On October 10, 1888, a fairly severe shock was felt in Rangoon, which wrecked the vane on the top of the great Shwedagon Pagoda. On the 13th and 14th of December, 1894, a series of severe shocks again occurred in Rangoon and its neighbourhood. Considerable damage was done to buildings in the city, but there was no loss of life.

Destructive floods on a large scale are unknown in Burma. Where, as for instance in the Irrawaddy delta, inundation might result in serious damage, most of the low-lying tracts exposed to this danger are fully protected by an elaborate system of embankments. Outside these specially guarded areas the rise of the waters at flood-time is so well- known, and can be so accurately gauged, that it is quite the exception for loss of life or property (other than growing rice) to occur even in the highest floods.

See also

For a large number of articles about Burma, extracted from the Gazetteer of 1908 (as well as other articles on Burma) please either click the 'Myanmar' link (below, left) and go to Burma(under B) or enter 'Burma' in the 'Search' box (top, right).

Burma, Physical Aspects 1908

Burma, History 1908

Burma, Administration 1908

Burma, Commerce and Trade 1908

Burma, Communication 1908

Burma, Agriculture 1908

Burma, Population 1908

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